"I think you've just seen a great example of why I got in the race. ... I'm the only outsider," he said as he watched Santorum, Paul, Gingrich and Romney clash.
Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman dismissed much the back-and-forth as "insider gobbledygook ... a lot of political spin," saying he would focus on more important questions such as national security.
He drew one of the few barbs that Romney directed at a fellow Republican during the evening.
"I'm sorry, Governor. You were the last two years implementing the policies of this administration in China. The rest of us on this stage were doing our best to get Republicans elected across this country and stop the policies of this president from being put forward."
There were a few light moments.
At one point, Paul was interrupted by a bell meant to indicate his time to speak had expired. "There it goes again," he said. [Who Will Be the Next GOP Candidate to Drop Out of the 2012 Race?]
Santorum replied instantly: "They caught you not telling the truth, Ron."
The intramural skirmishes reflected the state of the race — Romney the acknowledged front-runner under attack from his rivals, who face an increasingly urgent need to emerge as his main conservative challenger.
The debate at Saint Anselm College was the first in more than three weeks, and the first since Bachmann dropped out of the race. The candidates faced a quick turnaround for the second debate , set for Sunday morning in Concord.
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